Valerie Chamberlain as Celie and Chavonna Adams as Shug Avery in MET’s THE COLOR PURPLE Nov. 11-26, 2022 (photo by Valerie Chamberlain)
What is it about iconic characters from books and film that they populate our imaginations with unwavering presence?
Characters like John Proctor in The Crucible, or Willy Loman are well known to theater going audiences. More rare are female characters whose resonance in our lives echoes in memory once we’ve become acquainted with them. One of the characters like that is Celie in Alice Walker’s THE COLOR PURPLE, onstage at MET at the WARWICK Nov. 11-26, 2022. Initially found in the pages of her wonderful book, the character came to life in Steven Spielberg’s film with the brilliant performance by Whoopi Goldberg. Since then, the story found its life on stage with its Broadway premiere in 2005. With a transcendent, soaring score that marries amazing, energized gospel music to breathtakingly beautiful delicate melodies, the story comes to life through the character of Celie taking the most unexpected hero’s journey that we might have seen in the modern day.
So often the stories of women are told too quietly, and often not at all. This is even more true of the stories of amazing women in the African American culture. Celie is so present for us because her journey is so deeply, deeply human. Her humility and courage are profoundly moving. Her ability to love in spite of a harsh world inspires. Now the story comes to life with an all-local cast of performers featuring Val Chamberlain, Chavonna Adams as Shug and Robert McNichols as Mister.
How is it different from the film?
Telling the story in the intimate space and darkness of the theater creates an experience different from watching the film. Live theater lets us be with characters and then be with us in real time. That experience creates a memory that is visceral as well as emotional and auditory. The combination is profound. So, why experience live theater? Why go into a darkened room with others to let a story unfold? The answer may be because nothing else in the world can do that. For those few minutes Celie and Shug and everyone else is alive. Every minute thereafter as we remember her, she lives with us still.
A quote has lived in my memory for years now and feels remarkably true. I’m probably paraphrasing, so forgive me . . . Alice Walker says that stories are different from advice. When you get them they become the fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal us.
That’s what amazing characters and stories do.